Trees, Climate and Lessons Learned in Miami-Dade

By Jad Daley, Vice President of Conservation Programs, American Forests & Dennis C. Moss, Miami-Dade County Commissioner — District 9

With hurricane season upon us, and still bruised by last year’s damaging and expensive series of storms, people are re-focusing their attention — and anxieties — on the safety and resilience of their communities. Addressing concerns head on, the recent Miami Tree Week brought together an impressive coalition of public and private partners working to support ongoing urban forest work in one of the nation’s most vulnerable counties: Miami-Dade.

Why trees? The answer is simple: Trees are part of the first line of defense for our communities against hurricanes and other extreme weather, particularly intense heat.

It’s true that trees picked up a bit of a bad rap after Hurricane Irma. There was a lot of damage associated with downed trees, and a lot of cleanup required.

But trees also played an important role protecting residents from that storm, acting as a wind buffer and providing cooling shade for the dangerously hot days that followed the storm. The impact of Irma would have been much worse without trees.

Extreme heat is not just an issue after hurricanes. According to research from Climate Central, Miami-Dade is now the hottest major metro area in the country, if you look at the heat index combining temperature and humidity. Even more concerning, this same research suggests that there could be a 500 percent increase in days with extreme heat within just a few decades, which means a potential increase in heat-related deaths.

With so much to gain from trees, now is the time to go all in for supporting the efforts of Million Trees Miami. We now know that protection from trees can be maximized and damages minimized if we use the best forestry science to select tree species and plant and care for them correctly.

Million Trees Miami implements the “Right Tree, Right Place” approach to its efforts. Thanks to in-state research leaders like the University of Florida and Florida International University, that forestry science is available to us and getting better all the time.

There is a lot of work to be done. A countywide assessment led by Million Trees Miami and American Forests in 2016 showed that Miami-Dade’s tree canopy cover stands just under 20 percent, with low-income communities having the fewest trees. Our communities deserve better!

If the goal of Million Trees Miami is successful, the tree canopy will grow to a healthy 30 percent.

And if all this is not enough to get on board for Million Trees Miami, consider the positive impact of trees on our pocketbooks. Urban trees save homeowners across the country $7.8 billion dollars in energy costs. In Miami-Dade, where air conditioning drives energy use, home energy costs can be reduced by as much as 30 percent with well-placed trees. There is also strong research showing that tree canopy improves other aspects of our economy, like retail sales and property values.

To see the numbers on all the ways trees benefit us, from storm protection to home economics, check out Vibrant Cities Lab, a website hosted by American Forests and the U.S. Forest Service.

The best investments are those that grow bigger over time. Trees do just that, adding value as they grow a “green roof” for communities in Miami-Dade. There is plenty of room on the Million Trees Miami bandwagon. Come on board!

American Forests inspires and advances the restoration of forests, which are essential to life.

American Forests inspires and advances the restoration of forests, which are essential to life.